The drylands region shared by the United States and Mexico currently faces multiple sustainability challenges at the intersection of the human and natural systems. Warming and drying conditions threaten surface water and groundwater availability, disrupt land- and marine-based livelihood systems, and challenge the sustainability of human settlements. These biophysical challenges are exacerbated by a highly mobile and dynamic population, volatile economic and policy conditions, increased exposure to extreme events, and urbanization on marginal, vulnerable lands.
The transboundary region has made strides in managing water scarcity and drought through irrigation technology and interbasin water transfers. However, these strides have contributed to what scientists call the “safe development paradox,” namely, that institutionalized risk management and disaster relief at a regional scale actually dampen the public’s sensitivity to adverse environmental changes (e.g., a drying climate and tightening water supply) and thus reduce incentives for individual concern and adaptation.1 While tradeoffs between the robustness and vulnerability of social and ecological systems across time might be inevitable, awareness of such tradeoffs can potentially improve planning and decision making and ensure flexibility, adaptability, and improved responsiveness to changing conditions.
1 See Burby, R.J. (2006). Hurricane Katrina and the paradoxes of government disaster policy: Bringing about wise governmental decisions for hazardous areas. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604(1), 171–191. doi:10.1177/0002716205284676. Available: http://www.floods.org/PDF/Burby_Katrina_WiseGovernmentalDecisions.pdf [June 2018].
Climate change is affecting the transboundary region in several ways: decreased precipitation leads to reduced surface and groundwater storage; agriculturally, reduced water quantities affect pest infestations, change predator species and crop pollinators, and may reduce crop quality and yield; natural ecosystems become fragile and more susceptible to extreme events (e.g., tree mortality and wild fire intensity); and coastal habitats are adversely affected by sea-level rise. The United Nations highlights the significance of the nexus among food, energy, and water, and notes that demand for all three of these elements is increasing due to rising populations, economic growth, changing diets, and rapid urbanization.2 It stresses the importance of understanding the linkages in order to promote sustainable development.
The various border states in Mexico and the United States have had long-standing collaborations in relation to water resource management, flood control, fire management, and sharing information and scientific outputs related to climate variability and change. The Border 2020 program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (a successor to the Border 2012 program) is a primary example of the region’s transboundary initiatives.3 And as national immigration and trade policies affect demographic dynamics in the drylands region, communities will be facing new challenges for accommodating populations with diverse social and economic needs in the context of food-energy-water interactions. Political and economic factors associated with these changes have major implications for communities and social structure. According to Moser and colleagues, the differences in size and governance structures across local jurisdictions and between local and national governments in low- and middle-income nations can lead to significant variations in the capacities of these areas to develop and integrate adaptation and risk management strategies in the face of climate change.4 They also emphasize the role of community organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector in furthering regulatory and financial adjustments in this region.
In this context, experts in the region believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to create new platforms for collaboration that would address burgeoning climate-related challenges and opportunities and help to develop
2 See http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-food-and-energy [June 2018].
3 See https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/epa-collaboration-mexico [June 2018].
4 See Moser, C., Satterthwaite, D., Mearns, R., and Norton, A. (Ed.) (2010). Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centers of low- and middle-income countries. In Social Dimensions of Climate Change (pp. 231–258). Washington, DC: World Bank. Available: http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/10564IIED.pdf [June 2018].
the binational scientific, policy, and management capacity needed to promote sustainable development in the context of rapid changes.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, with financial support from the George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Sciences, collaborated with the Mexican Academy of Sciences, Academy of Engineering of Mexico, and the National Academy of Medicine of Mexico to plan a 2-day binational workshop, Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands. The workshop goals were to highlight the challenges facing the region, assess the scientific and technical capacity that each nation can bring to bear in addressing these challenges, and identify new opportunities for binational research collaboration and coordinated management approaches in the advancement of sustainability science and development. For the full workshop charge, see Box 1-1. The workshop was held at the Instituto Potosino de Investigacíon Cientifica y Tecnológia (IPICYT, Potosino Science and Technology Institute) in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in May 2018.
The workshop was organized into both plenary presentations and breakout discussion groups: see the full agenda in Appendix A.5 The organization of this proceedings generally follows the workshop agenda. The rest of this chapter provides an overview of the history of collaboration between the U.S. and Mexican National Academies and the importance of sustainability science in binational collaboration. Chapter 2 breaks down the term “transboundary region” and defines some of the current efforts and key challenges in the area. Workshop participants held small group discussions on four main drylands research focus areas, summarized in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 recaps presentations on innovative approaches to drylands research, and Chapter 5 identifies key themes for future sustainability efforts. Appendix B lists the workshop participants, and Appendix C provides biographical sketches of the steering committee members and the presenters.
This proceedings has been prepared by the two workshop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The steering committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the steering committee, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Sciences, or the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, the Academia de Ingeniería de México and the Academia Nacional de Medicina de México.
5 The workshop presentations are available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BECS/CurrentProjects/DBASSE_181644 [June 2018].
The workshop began with opening remarks from Alejandro Ricardo Femat Flores, the director of IPICYT; Vaughan Turekian, the executive director of Policy and Global Affairs at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and José Luis Morán, president of the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias (AMC, the Mexican Academy of Sciences).
Following those remarks, José Franco (Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico) provided a brief history of collaboration between the U.S. and Mexican Academies over the past three decades. Franco said that the relationship between the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the AMC has been solid for many years and was enhanced by the election of 11 AMC members as foreign associates of the NAS. He mentioned several joint projects and publications between the AMC and NAS centered on
environmental and atmospheric science. One of the earliest joint publications was a consensus report in 1995 entitled Mexico City’s Water Supply: Improving the Outlook for Sustainability,6 which involved the NAS, the AMC, and the Mexican Academy of Engineering (Academia de Ingeniería de México, AIM), and summarized the work of a binational committee. The report was sponsored by the MacArthur, Tinker, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations, the U.N. Development Program, the Mexico Ministry of Health (Secretaría de Salud), the Mexico National Science Foundation (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Another report by the Joint Working Group on Ocean Sciences of the NAS and AMC was published a few years later.7
Franco noted that over the years the collaboration expanded to include scientific counterparts in other countries. In 1998, for example, the NAS and AMC teamed with the Canadian Global Change Program to host and publish a summary of a trilateral workshop.8 In 2003, AMC organized the first meeting of the Academies of Sciences of Latin America, with special guests from the U.N.’s Inter-Academy Partnership Organization (IAP), the Royal Society of Canada, and NAS. One year later, the Americas arm of the IAP, the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences, was created to reinforce technological and scientific collaboration, decision making, and capacity building between countries in North, South, and Central America. In 2014, the Royal Society of Canada and the U.S. and Mexican Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine cohosted a symposium on new horizons in science, which included discussions on astrophysics, biotechnology, green chemistry, disasters, oceanography, and marine biology. The United States and Mexico have planned and hosted several other meetings and have published many jointly authored documents with the shared goal of reducing the region’s vulnerability to climate change.
Franco noted that the idea for this workshop incubated for several years, beginning with a February 2016 meeting in Mexico City and then again at a meeting on resilience in Washington, D.C., in May 2016. Shortly after Dr. Morán was appointed head of the AMC in August 2017, he worked closely with National Academies’ leaders to initiate this project, and a planning meeting was held that year in Mexico. The aim has always
6 Joint Academies Committee on the Mexico City Water Supply. (1995). Mexico City’s Water Supply: Improving the Outlook for Sustainability. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
7 AMC–NRC Joint Working Group on Ocean Sciences, Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, and National Research Council (U.S.). (1999). Building Ocean Science Partnerships: The United States and Mexico Working Together. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
8 National Research Council (U.S.), Canadian Global Change Program, and Academia Mexicana de Ciencias. (1998). Atmospheric Change and the North American Transportation Sector: Summary of a Trilateral Workshop. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. doi: 10.17226/9654.
been to examine and deepen our analyses and point to initiatives that will help address sustainability issues in the transboundary region in both the public and private sectors.
Christopher Scott (University of Arizona) gave an overview of those expert and planning meetings. He first shared his impressions of the field trip he and several others had participated in the previous day in Charcas, a town in the northern part of San Luís Potosí state. The trip gave participants an opportunity to talk with local stakeholders and experience first-hand the sustainability challenges and issues they face. Scott also acknowledged the efforts of the U.S. and Mexican Academies and staff to ensure the demographic and academic diversity of the committee, which added to the richness of early discussions.
Scott reviewed the goals of the workshop and said that it was designed in a way to encourage the exchange of ideas, feedback, and fresh perspectives among participants. He noted that this workshop should be considered as both a culmination of the work and meetings conducted in 2016–2017 and a starting point for further advanced, multidisciplinary research on sustainability.
Ana Escalante Hernández (UNAM) opened her presentation by describing sustainability science as a moral principle that encompasses respect and equality in terms of fair distribution and exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources in order to satisfy human and societal needs, while respecting and safekeeping all other sentient beings both now and in the future. She referenced Dobson’s (1998)9 work on environmental sustainability and distributive justice and said that ethical principle for an equal, fair, and just distribution of resources is regarded by national and international legislation as a human right.
Escalante noted that intervention design is a key component to solving sustainability problems. Without attempts to reorient sustainability trends toward a better state of well-being and equality, the problems will persist or become even worse. She said that such reorientation would call for a systems framing that captures the complexity associated with the social-environmental intersection of sustainability, including but not limited to challenges in the many sectors: food, climate, water, development, environment, security, energy, population, urbanization, migration, and globalization. When designing interventions and strategies, Escalante said,
9 Dobson, A. (1998). Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Theories of Distributive Justice. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
it is important to consider the technical, methodical, political, and other variations that may make it difficult to design and apply universal interventions. Consequently, she noted, effective intervention design should be a collaborative approach that draws from knowledge in multiple academic and nonacademic sectors.
Escalante referenced the food-energy-water nexus as an example of the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability science: because the components interact with and affect each other, solving the scientific challenges requires a diverse representation of experts. Effectively dealing with binational and transboundary sustainability challenges will touch on numerous dimensions, including national economies, globalization, development, urbanization, migration, safety and security, and climate change. Escalante said many of the collaborations she has seen did not truly integrate fields of knowledge, trigger new methodologies, or ask collectively formulated questions. She said she has also seen efforts that were regarded as multidisciplinary but were defined, led, and conducted by a single discipline, in effect prioritizing the needs of one discipline over others.
Escalante said that she believes that truly transforming sustainability science and the way it is implemented will require a transdisciplinary approach that expands beyond academia. Researchers and practitioners will have to consider the best methodological approaches for research on social-environmental systems, the best modeling tools for looking at future scenarios, and, in the case of binational work, how to effectively communicate findings across languages. The effort will require strategic planning, integral analysis of socioeconomic systems, and real-world execution by politicians and other key stakeholders. In this vein, she described an initiative at UNAM, the Laboratorio Nacional de Ciencias de la Sostenibilidad (LANCIS), which is focused on stepping outside of academia and drawing on expertise from other sectors to promote pertinent, legitimate, transparent research.
In the discussion, Laureano Alvarez (North American Development Bank) agreed with Escalante’s point about poor communication across sectors that led to duplicated or overlapped efforts. He suggested the creation of a “consortium of knowledge” that could facilitate interactions between fields to prevent duplicate efforts and help with budget allocations. Escalante responded that LANCIS has been working to address this issue and has started by managing the organization of historical research efforts in Mexico City. LANCIS is also promoting collaborative framework agreements with key stakeholder institutions, including human services agencies, such as the Secretariat of Health and the Mexican Social Security Institute.
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